10 Best Things To Do In Palermo According to the Locals

This article is intended to show you the 10 best things that you can do when you visit Palermo. Read through these options to get the most out of your Belpaese visit.

Hello everyone! It is your full-blooded Sicilian friend Nico here again. Today I want to tell you all of the things you should do when you visit Palermo.

Now, before you just start scrolling down to the meat of the article, I would suggest you take a minute and read what I have to write down here.

It’s not like I don’t get it. I like to skim through all the articles I read too. But the important thing about this one is that you will miss very important and helpful information if you do. I have some items to discuss before you learn about what to do around Palermo.

You and your party are looking to reach one of the most historical cities in Sicily, and we are known for 5 specific things:

  1. Palermo is recognized as the most conquered city in history, and it boasts Europe’s second-largest historical center.
  2. Palermo is among the cities boasting the largest number of UNESCO sites.
  3. In and around Palermo you will find charming villages in the province recognized as the most attractive in the country.
  4. The cuisine of Sicily is recognized the world over. Inventions like cannoli and ice cream are available almost everywhere on the planet.
  5. White sand beaches and crystal clear waters make the city among the most popular destinations throughout Europe during the summer months.

Don’t take this like I am tooting my own horn (though that is a remarkably Sicilian thing to do). I want to help you understand a crucial concept about the city that I love.

In Palermo, there is much to see, much to do, many stories to hear and a need for a way to get around.

In this same vein, the public transportation system, the information we provide for travelers, and the availability of those that can speak English pales in comparison to other tourist destination throughout Europe. It is a challenge.

I cannot pull punches here, if you don’t have a concise plan, you are screwed.

I will take this opportunity to make the story here shorter by listing the 10 best things you should do. I would use this list as your starting point and reference guide to what you cannot miss.

IMPORTANT: Once you have gathered the information, set up your detailed plan to list the things you want to make sure you get to do. I have made life a little easier for you in this regard, because I already have a FREE Itinerary (Palermo in 1 day) that let you see all of the things I’m telling you about now. Don’t miss out and download for free now.

Ready to begin? Let’s get started.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

I’m certain that everyone by now has gone on vacation, only to return home and begin reading about all the cool and exciting things you could have been doing there instead. It happens a good deal to travelers returning home from Palermo if they did not create a plan ahead of time. You can create your own or use one of the free options I have created for you instead.

10 Best Things To Do in Palermo

If you skipped the introduction before, I’m going to have to send you to the corner now. Jokes aside, your itinerary and its details make a difference when you visit Sicily.

Let me quickly recap in case you decided you were too lazy to read my introduction.

Palermo can be a madhouse which requires a high level of organization when you decide to visit. You can flush away your entire vacation without proper planning.

In short, you need to take the time to create a plan that suits the time you have and your top desires for attractions and entertainment. What I have for you today is not a plan, but rather items that could be anchor points in your itinerary.


With that said let’s get into the best things that I believe you can do in town.

1. Appreciate the Sights

Palermo has a lot of history. This is not the place where you just party all night and day. One of the first things that should be a focal point of your list being created is how you should take in the views and sights that Palermo has to offer.

The side effect of such an abundance is massive headaches.

I have some statistics that can showcase what is out there for you to see and take in:

  • Over 230 ancient Churches (Many of these options are more than 1000 years old)
  • City boasts 12 UNESCO sites and more to be named throughout the entire province
  • Controversially the second-largest historical center in Europe according to UNESCO.
  • Home to the third-largest opera theater in Europe (and the biggest in Italy.)
  • Home to four ancient street markets that are among the oldest in all of Europe.
  • and more…

So then the question becomes. How do you see everything?

One of the options is to choose paid tours, as they help to free you from any organizing that you might have to do. You can choose the wiser and cheaper route of building your own itinerary too. You can pick and choose the things and locations that you really want to do and see.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

There are no shortages of things to see here in Palermo. I risk sounding like a cranky old grandpa repeating myself over and over, but you can’t just toss items on a list and get there randomly. You won’t have success. You will spend more time looking at your phone than you will the sights you are supposed to be seeing. Make a plan.

Palermo Itinerary


A Quick Stroll Through Palermo (+Map):

  • Provides a Fuller Understanding of What to Do in Town
  • Create the Perfect Day Plan for You Effortlessly
  • Escape the Stress of Missing Major Attractions

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE NOW!

2. Try Some Authentic Sicilian Foods

When we talk about food, us Sicilians become so puffed up and self-righteous that, in comparison, Napoléon Bonaparte would come across like a modest Tibetan monk.

It is not uncommon to hear the locals discuss the food here in ‘humble manners’ like “Our food is the best in the universe”.

Listen, I don’t know if that is true. I can tell you that it is delicious, healthy (for some things), and eclectic. We are a melting pot of many different cultures, and that comes across as a truly unique culinary experience.

Over thousands of years, every power that has occupied Sicily has helped to shape its cuisine and other aspects. So, what is considered Sicilian dishes today are actually a blend of these cultures.

To help you out, I listed five things (categories) of food that you need to be trying while you are here.

  • Street Food (Forbes said it’s the best in all of Europe)
  • Pastries (We invented cassatas, cannoli, and ice cream. We know desserts and pastries.)
  • Pizza (definitely try the Sfincione which is unique even to other spots in Italy)
  • Seafood (Sicily is met by three seas and a huge variety of fresh seafood options)
  • Vegetables (surprisingly, locals eat much more vegetables than pasta, fish, or anything else)

If you look in each of these categories, you are bound to find food items that will change your taste buds forever. Mouth-watering recipes abound and are too many to name. If I listed it all, this article might never end.

If you need answers to this question, though, or a starting point for your dining choices, you can always check out what you should eat in Palermo.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

Passionate about food? Want to have an authentic Sicilian experience? You should check out the guide we made called The Sicilian Way – you can find the best dishes. We have a collection of more than 100 videos explaining the top cuisine options.

3. Learn the Greatest Stories of Sicily

One thing that you can certainly say about Palermo and its people is that there are no shortages of stories here.

Even the stones have a story and a voice. I mean that literally.

You should take a minute to learn about the Palermo Stone. By using this stone, historians have been able to reconstruct and learn about the first 700 years of Egyptian civilization.

There is a long history of story that have helped to shape the world based in the life of Sicily and its people. Here are three that you might want to learn about yourself:

  • The history and origins of ice cream that was created and perfected by a Sicilian man named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli.
  • How the term ‘Mafia’ became household enough to be included in the dictionary and where this term originated in Palermo’s street markets.
  • The birth and growth of cannoli (which started as a phallic tribute to one of the Arab kings of Sicily – but don’t tell our grandmas)

Honestly there is no end to the amazing stories that you can learn here in the city. You can discover stories of love and war, our greatest inventions or innovations, and legends that have survived millennia.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

If you are using my guide The Sicilian Way, you can purchase an additional package full of interesting audio stories that you can listen to from your phone. If you don’t have it, you also have options like buying some books, hiring an experienced guide, or just talking with some of the locals. Learn these stories – it makes what you are seeing all the more important and impressive.

4. Take a Swim from Beautiful Sicilian Beaches

If you want to find another point of pride that might drive you to want to smack a Sicilian beside the head to shut them up is our beaches. But, as much as you might tire of hearing it, you will never tire of the views of the beach.

These are all constructed against breathtaking waters and long, spectacular coastlines that you might expect to see on a screen saver or stock vacation image somewhere. This is where those enticing shots come from.

You can find various types of beaches throughout the island. These might include pebble and sand beachfronts or cliffside options. There is nothing quite like the allure of the Sicilian coasts.

No doubt by now you want to know where the best of these are so you can include them in your trip, and some include:

There are small slices of paradise to be found all over Sicily. I have a list of the ten best beaches around Palermo. If you want to find out more, check it out.

There is a definite season for swimming here. Often it begins in May and can end in October for the locals. I am not saying I have not seen many a valiant foreigner swimming during the off seasons. That is up to you.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

I would say that our seas almost look like they were photoshopped they are so gorgeous. With thousands of beaches to choose from, each of these has their own reason to beckon you for a visit. If you want to tour a few of your best options, you need to make sure that you have rented a car. Public transportation is just awful.

5. Experience the Magic of the Night

Let’s not mistake Palermo for some all-night adventure locations like Ibiza or Las Vegas, but the nightlife here is certainly worth your time. It is intense, colorful, and quite often pretty crazy.

I would say that the nightlife here differs greatly from what you can expect from other popular European cities.

Some of these places have clubs and historical spots that have served the country for decades or even centuries, but Palermo is not like this. Here, we have a much different approach to keeping things fresh.

You are always going to be attracted by fun times, music, and delicious drink options. Unfortunately, the venues to find these seem to change as frequently as the winning lottery numbers.

You have to find a way to learn your way around. Luckily, I keep an updated guide about the nightlife. This is sure to keep you informed anytime you need it.

Grab yourself a copy if you desire, but here are a few quick tips:

  • Try the Italian aperitivo
  • Enjoy a dinner in one of the trattorias with a glass of fine Italian wine.
  • Lose yourself in the alleys of Old Town and finish your night dancing in a bar
Italian Aperitivo
Italian Aperitivo

Want more information about the nighttime activities? Check out my page all about the Palermo nightlife.

Palermo Itinerary


A Quick Stroll Through Palermo (+Map):

  • Provides a Fuller Understanding of What to Do in Town
  • Create the Perfect Day Plan for You Effortlessly
  • Escape the Stress of Missing Major Attractions

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE NOW!

Nico


Nico’s Take:

Much like every other major European city, Palermo has several tourists traps you will want to avoid. Don’t enter places at random – learn about where you want to go and where the locals are.

6. Enjoy the Whimsy of a Sicilian Puppet Show

Whether you are bringing your kids or not, you should definitely catch a show at Opera Dei Pupi Siciliani featuring Charlemagne and his paladins in puppet form. This is a must-see.

There is no doubt that you will enjoy your time.

This is a Sicilian tradition dating back centuries, and the performances have even garnered the attention of UNESCO who states that the marionette theater here is a ‘masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of all humanity’

I don’t need to name drop UNESCO as part of some sales pitch. I just want you to appreciate the historical significance of these performances. The performances are breathtaking.

Also, another possible advantage to this impressive performance is that tickets are pretty cheap.

I suppose if you need a little more of a push, I have some more information that might sway you to making the time for it:

  • First Italian Heritage to be included on a UNESCO list
  • Original shows began in 1700
  • Cuticchio Theater in Palermo is Sicily’s oldest theater of this type

History can be a little boring at times, especially from a book or a lecture. Instead, avoid documentaries with a dull narrator by checking out the puppet theater instead.

All that being said, there are shows happening every day. This is definitely something you need to do if you have kids. Have fun! (Buon divertimento!)

Nico


Nico’s Take:

As a grown man it seems funny to say that going to the puppet theater takes me to being an excited 7-year-old boy on Christmas Eve. It is as funny as it is educational. I would put this show on my to-do-list if I were you.

7. Enjoy Some Retail Therapy

There is no mistaking the fact that you are going to want to do some shopping while you are on vacation here. You are visiting Italy after all.

Fortunately, there are stores and shops to accommodate all tastes and budgets here in Palermo.

For those with deep pockets (which is a blessing I wish on all of you) you can find many brand stores and boutiques along the city center like Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Prada.

If you are among those that have to shop and are not afraid to blow some of your trip budget to do it, have I got exciting news for you!

You can look into the Sicilia Outlet Village – an open-air luxury shopping experience featuring luxury brands that have year-round sales and clearances.

I can hear your excited gasps from here.

Not interested in the high-end brands? Old Town has alleys that give you authentic Italian wares and cheap costs. You can start by visiting these areas:

  • Via Ruggero Settimo (and surrounding area)
  • Via Libertà (and the cross streets)
  • Via Maqueda

You might also consider some of the shopping malls in the area, but cars are highly recommended. The first is called Forum and the other is Conco d’Oro.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

There is a lot that Palermo has to offer regardless of what you are looking for. There are many locations for the traditional handicrafts. As always, watch for tourist traps and scams. They are going to be there.

8. Experience the Street Markets

Know those bustling street markets you see in the movies set in the Middle Ages? There is some scene where the main character is running among the stalls, trying to lose those pursuing them as they stumble over the goods.

Palermo is home to five street markets that look like the ones in these movies. They date back to the times of Arab rule. These include:

Sure, they are famous for fresh meat and fish, but there are really stalls for just about anything. You will find street food, fruits, vegetables, and clothing (not going to find the Prada here, though).

Now I am not going to send you here because of the unbelievable price on a bunch of bananas or fruits – you are coming here for the show.

This whole area is like its own world away from the city – like it was plucked out of time. It is full of crazy inhabitants living by their own rules. The market is full of shouting, songs, and chants.

There are unfortunately some loose regulations on hygiene here as well. I guess that’s one of the things that sets it apart from the food courts at a local shopping mall – so keep this in mind.

Next, you also consider that these are the best peddlers of street food in all of Palermo. This is a reason alone to make sure you include any of these places in your itineraries.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

Street food tours can be a great thing to consider. If you go alone without information about the expected prices or what foods are best, you will not get what makes street food here so renowned. Hire a guide or educate yourself.

Palermo Itinerary


A Quick Stroll Through Palermo (+Map):

  • Provides a Fuller Understanding of What to Do in Town
  • Create the Perfect Day Plan for You Effortlessly
  • Escape the Stress of Missing Major Attractions

DOWNLOAD FOR FREE NOW!

9. Climb Mount Pellegrino

This mountain is much more than just a 2000 ft. high hill in Sicily (600 meters.) This is a special place for the locals.

Locals are going to be doing all kinds of things on this mountain, including jogging the roads, riding motorcycles, letting their children play, and I’ve even heard tales of conceiving children on the dark streets in a car.

Honestly, there are three main reasons that locals or visitors might want to come here:

  1. Hiking – Because it is a mountain, hiking is naturally one of the main draws to this area.
  2. Visit Saint Rosalia Sanctuary – atop the mountain, there is a cave where the patron Saint Rosalia spent a portion of her life.
  3. View Palermo As You Can Nowhere Else – Mount Pellegrino offers many incredible views of Palermo and its Gulf.

What the locals want to do here is the ‘acchianata’ or the ‘climb’ in Sicilian. This is a 4km (2.5 mile) trail that leads you to the Saint Rosalia sanctuary.

This was changed into a sanctuary to pay homage to Saint Rosalia. Whether you are a believer or not, is not every day you get to see a church constructed in a cave.

Inside are the remains of this saint and a small museum features many relics and offerings for travelers and believers. You will find that there is an unwavering devotion to this Saint.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

The pilgrimage to the sanctuary is one of the traditional Sicilian actions that you can do while you are here. Many believe that Saint Rosalia is still performing miracles from this cave and can clear your soul of sin. It’s worth a try.

10. Explore Away from the City Limits

Sicily is easily the largest of the islands in the Mediterranean, which is the most conquered in the world’s history. The entire island features breathtaking landscapes, beaches, and scenic views.

Palermo is just one big step towards exploring the entire island.

I wrote an article all about the things that you should take the time to see around Palermo. I will give you a few items here to get you started:

  • Corleone – You might recognize this as the village of mobsters, but it is also the birthplace of cannoli.
  • Cefalù – This seaside village provides a beautiful beach, dining, nightlife, and a unique and vast cultural heritage.
  • Agrigento – An ancient Greek city with temples that are still surviving to this day.

One of the alluring aspects of the villages around Palermo is that no two are alike. They have strong individual identities and completely unique feelings.

And of course, the food – mamma mia! Each of these little villages features its traditional dishes and recipes, making it stand out from the Sicilian cities. It is freshness in every bite because it’s all locally sourced ingredients. It’s quite literally farm to fork.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

If you decided to explore beyond Palermo, renting a car is essential. The only workaround might be guided tours that pick you up and drop you back off at your accommodations. Look carefully at tour itineraries and what each of these villages has to offer so you end up in a place that suits your desires.

BONUS TIP: Meet the Locals

Despite the fact that we might seem like other Italians, Sicilians are a little atypical. Some might even classify this as bipolar.

Sometimes it seems like we only got the extreme parts of the culture that inspire the evolution of Palermo. This was a change over many centuries.

These contradictions of the Sicilian people are clearly visible the longer you stay in the city.

It’s weird. We are the people that many consider laid back and generous, but this same history of our people created the Cosa Nostra (Mafia). They have all the cunning and charm that you would expect but lack the discipline and social aptitudes for kindness.

Sure, I could continue – but I think you get the point.

You should try and get to know some of the locals a little better during your stay, though. There are three main ways that I suggest you do that.

One thing is for sure – you will never forget the time that you spend with the locals.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

Sicilians are a strange breed to say the least. We might be officially deemed Italians, but you might be reminded of the Spanish, Norman, and Arab influences by how we think. Hanging out can be as educational as it is entertaining.

Conclusion

If you can manage to do all of the things that I have listed here, you are going to be among the lucky few that return home satisfied that you did not miss out on what Palermo has to offer.

You might have noticed, though, that the volume of suggested activities exceeds your time available, so planning and coordination are key elements to your perfect vacation.

If I had to shorten your list to only three things to do while you were in Palermo, it would be these:

  • Take In the Sights – Palermo is one of the most historically rich areas of Italy. Do not waste the opportunities to learn what you can.
  • Try Traditional Sicilian Dishes – Sicily is a place greatly influenced by multiple cultures, and that shows in our cuisine. Make sure you carve out the time for a food tour.
  • Take a Dip in the Crystal Seas – With many beautiful beaches and clear waters, Sicily is known for having attractive coastlines that rival anywhere in Europe. Make sure you make time for a visit.

Before we part ways, let me remind you about the itineraries that I mentioned earlier that can help you better plan your Palermo trip. Additionally, you can get a video guide about Palermo featuring tips from locals that you cannot get anywhere else. It is FREE, so why wouldn’t you? Check it out now!

I would suggest that if you are interested, you should join a free group on Facebook. This allows anyone planning a trip, currently visiting, or already visited to share experiences and stories with one another.

If you have questions or concerns about the trip you are now planning, you can look at the tourist information page. You might find that others have already asked the question you want the answer to. You can also leave a comment below and I will get back with you with the answer as I am able.

A big hug for everyone,

Nico

PS – want to experience Palermo like a real Sicilian? Make sure that you avoid the tourist traps and money pits by using our guide The Sicilian Way.

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About Nico

I am a 100%, authentic, full blooded Sicilian loves Palermo like Romeo loves Juliet. I will talk obsessively about this city and I know every part intimately. I know all of Palermo secrets. I want to share with you everything great about this city, but I will not hide its flaws. After all, love is made out of flaws as well.

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